A Guide To The Different Types Of Counselors

By Sarah Fader

Updated December 06, 2018

Reviewer Rashonda Douthit , LCSW

An important consideration when deciding to participate in therapy is the type of mental health professional to consult. As the field of mental health grows, several different kinds of mental health professionals have emerged. While all clinical professionals meet similar clinical requirements for competency, each mental health profession has its own specific training. Consider the following types of mental health professionals to find the best fit for you:

Clinical Social Worker (CSW)

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Clinical social workers receive advanced training in the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness, emotional, and other behavioral disorders. Clinical social workers have more clinical experience than master's level social workers who do not have the clinical designation. Clinical social workers have completed the required master's program in social work (MSW), internship and postgraduate supervision hours along with passing a national exam.

Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) or Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

A mental health counselor is a counselor whose education is geared specifically toward clinical assessment, treatment, and psychotherapy. Mental health counselors receive training in mental illness, psychotherapy, and clinical intervention services. A licensed mental health counselor is required to complete a master's program, internship, and postgraduate supervision hours. They are also required to pass a licensing exam.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

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Marriage and family therapists focus on relationship, marital, and family problems related to mental health. Marriage and family therapists work with couples, parents, children, siblings, etc. They specialize in the family dynamic, along with interpersonal issues and relationships. The training of a marriage and family therapist is much like that of other mental health professionals, requiring a master's level education in mental health and clinical supervision hours, followed by a clinical exam.

Clinical Psychologist (Ph.D. or PsyD)

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A clinical psychologist is a mental health professional who has received a doctoral degree. However, they cannot prescribe medication because their doctorate is not a medical degree. Like other mental health professionals, clinical psychologists are trained in assessment, diagnosis, and therapeutic practice.

Psychiatrist (MD)

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Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have received advanced training and education in mental health and psychiatric disorders. Psychiatrists typically focus on medication management by prescribing psychotropic medication. Psychiatrists typically meet with patients on a monthly basis, and most do not offer counseling services. Since their primary focus is on medication management, they often work closely with counseling professionals to track patient progress and coordinate care.

All of the above type of mental health professionals are well equipped to effectively address mental health concerns. When considering your own options for professional counseling, be sure to consult with a licensed mental health professional. Although licensing requirements can vary from state to state, choosing someone licensed ensures that s/he has received a minimum level of education and training.

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